Creative and Critical Thinking: Documentation meets the Digital Age

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. One of the benefits of embarking on a journey of self-directed professional learning is the unexpected consequences of stepping outside your comfort zone. Four years ago, I was pushed into a state of disequilibrium by a group of students who encouraged me to take a look inside the unfamiliar world of social media. I was anxious about stepping into the unknown, but I am thankful that I chose the path forward toward growth and did not go back to safety. Once I was outside my comfort zone, a new world of learning opened up.

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again. ~Abraham Maslow

Disequilibrium can be described as tension that builds when new information collides with prior knowledge, beliefs or values. Disequilibrium is a familiar idea in the literature on Reggio-inspired thinking. Disequilibrium as the intrinsic force behind development becomes the force that motivates the journey forward. It provides the impetus to progress; to take the path that leads forward. Once in the world of social media, I discovered the potential of technology tools to support, not only children’s learning but also teacher’s growth. When I was faced with a challenge put forward by Beverlie Dietze, a colleague and mentor, to consider the place of technology in our practices as adult educators, I realized that I could never go back to the safety of my world before social media. Our collaboration, discourse, and research resulted in an article Shifting Views: Exploring the Potential for Technology Integration in Early Childhood Education Programs in which we come up with a number of questions about the potential of technology integration into play and inquiry-based learning. We are still pondering the answers.

  • What is the relationship of technology to children’s creativity?
  • Is there a place for children’s expression of creativity through technology?
  • Should early learning professionals assume that art and creativity can only be expressed with paint, paper, markers, and crayons? Why or why not?

In contemplating the integration of technology, I am not always comfortable with this shift in views. I am learning to embrace something I was not born into. Technology may cause discomfort but inside this world the potential for professional learning is infinite. For me, the greatest ‘aha’ moment occurred when new information collided with my current thinking. I used to think that technology was not necessary in my practice or in the ECE learning environment. Now, I think, it is vitally important as a way to support creative, divergent, and critical thinking. Technology supports thinking outside the box.

Screenshot 2016-02-13 06.42.51

Thinking Outside the Box

I am a digital immigrant but I am an out of box thinker. I came to the world of social media and new technologies later in life but with a passion for divergent thinking. Technology has supported my ability to think critically and to see issues and problems from new perspectives. I will never go back to the safety zone. Now, my two Facebook pages; Technology Rich Inquiry Based ResearchBachelor of Child Development, my Twitter account and my Pinterest boards are integral components of my life. Everyday, it seems that I get excited about something that I read and become motivated to share with my social media learning community. When what I read and share, inspires me to write, I am grateful to have this platform. I am thankful for the followers and readers of this blog. A few months ago, I wrote a post on critical reflection and an unexpected consequence was that I was contacted by Ron Spreeuwenberg from HiMama. Ron invited me to visit with the HiMama team at their head office and I was extremely impressed with the possibilities of this app to support observation, program planning, documentation, and family engagement in the early learning community.


New technologies and apps can make life so much easier. The challenge is to avoid seeing their use as an easy way out. Without critical engagement with technology, teaching, and learning, we will fail to see below the surface. Considering that learning involves the tension of cognitive dissonance and disequilibrium, teaching should never be easy. The key to teaching and learning in the digital age is to support creativity and critical thinking. By bringing these professional skills and dispositions to your work, technology becomes a tool to support professional growth. Documentation should not just be the retelling of a moment in time but a reflective narrative that has depth; that goes below the surface. Through this process of critical reflection, new ideas emerge that support inquiry, investigation and children’s learning. In Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years, How Does Learning Happen? pedagogical documentation is described as “more than recording events – it is a means to learning about how children think and learn. It offers a process to explore all of our questions about children”. How Does Learning Happen? suggests the use of questions to help frame documentation. These questions support critical reflection. When you are reviewing photos taken of children during the course of an inquiry or within daily experiences think about these questions from How Does Learning Happen? The questions are slightly altered from those appearing on page 22:

  • How is the child in the photo demonstrating that they are competent and capable of complex thinking?
  • How is the child’s current approach to a problem different from an earlier response?
  • What questions and theories do you think the child has about the world around them?
  • How is the child going about finding answers to their questions or testing their theories?
  • How does the child form relationships with materials and with others?

When you reflect on the answers and write your interpretation of what you are seeing, you are reaching below the surface and achieving a level of depth in your documentation. When you are describing what you see in documentation consider the following seven points.

Documentation Considerations

I believe in the capacity of early childhood educators to integrate technology and use social media to support creative and critical thinking. It may sound cliché but step outside of your comfort zone, think outside of the box and strive for depth in your thinking to embrace disequilibrium in your practice. My friend and colleague, Cindy Green whose tireless support for early childhood educators has spanned decades, suggests that educators who write from their hearts to interpret the meaning in children’s play before running to resources to extrapolate word for word, embody the view of educators as competent and capable. This is the view suggested by the province’s early learning pedagogy.

The Image of the Teacher

Trust yourself and your capacity for deep and critical reflection. You are competent, capable and rich in potential.



5 thoughts on “Creative and Critical Thinking: Documentation meets the Digital Age

  1. Omgoodness Diane. Your article matched some of the things that I have been questioning about documentation, our profession, progress, digital media, and so much more. Most importantly, to me, you have raised many more questions that I am so intrigued to explore. Thanks.


  2. Diane,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflection. I also have had a wonderful experience finding new ways to document learning using technology with my teaching partner and we seem to keep evolving the ways we document learning to get the most from our observations and make future decisions to give our children opportunities for their next steps in learning.


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